Does a discount rate measure the costs of climate change?

Economics and Philosophy 33 (3):337-365 (2017)

Christian Tarsney
Oxford University
I argue that the use of a social discount rate to assess the consequences of climate policy is unhelpful and misleading. I consider two lines of justification for discounting: (i) ethical arguments for a "pure rate of time preference" and (ii) economic arguments that take time as a proxy for economic growth and the diminishing marginal utility of consumption. In both cases I conclude that, given the long time horizons, distinctive uncertainties, and particular costs and benefits at stake in the climate context, discount rates are at best a poor proxy for the normative considerations they are meant to represent.
Keywords climate change  climate ethics  discount rate
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DOI 10.1017/S0266267117000049
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